Neofunctionalism vs Liberal Intergovernmentalism

Are the Theories still valid today?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Main Part
2.1. LIG & NF - comparison & basic assumptions
2.2. LIG & NF - intentions, aim and validity
2.3. LIG & NF - a Critique
2.4. Alternative approaches to European Integration

3. Conclusion & Outlook

4. Appendix
4.1. Bibliography
4.2. List of Tables

1. Introduction

Neofunctionalism and Liberal Intergovernmentalism (from now on I will use the abbre- viations: NF and LIG in this paper) have been predominant approaches to theorizing Integration processes, especially in the first phase of theorizing European Integration1. In the following essay I will begin by briefly lay out the main assumptions of the two approaches, drawing especially on their differences and similarities. In a second part I will discuss what these theories set out to do and raise questions about the actual ac- complishments. Thirdly, I will turn to a critique of LIG and NF identifying their weak- nesses, refering to Thomas Risse`s argument that Liberal Intergovernmentalism and Neofunctionalism are both lacking `...some categories necessary to capture distinctive features of the EU`2. This will lead me to the fourth part of my analysis in which I will demonstrate what and how other approaches can fill in the theoretical gaps and wholes that I have pointed out in my critique. In My conclusion I argue that European Integra- tion Theory does not need overarching, universal theories, but rather is a useful con- glomerate of different theories3, that might be combined in eclectically, and offer vari- ous toolkits for different suitable areas and levels of analysing and explaining Integra- tion.

2. Main Part

2.1 LIG & NF - comparison & basic assumptions

LIG and NF have the same starting point as they try to explain processes and dynamics of integration in Europe4. Both work with rational calculating actors, who are identified as the drivers of integration. Arguing in a traditional rationalist fashion the actors pro- moting integration are fundamentally driven by their rational self interest in integration5. Their primary assumptions therefore can be whittled down to a logic of social action in a rational manner and a driving self interest which ultimately leads these actors to Inte- gration. Although LIG identifies the nation states governments as the main actors,6 while NF takes a variety of political and social elites as actors, the basic assumptions pointed out above form the base of the two approaches and their understanding of rele- vant actors7. LIG and NF both argue that relevant actors involved have relatively stable and fixed preferences throughout the integration process. These preferences are build through rational strategic calculations in relation to exogenous factors. The two ap- proaches see the state as a uniform actor and do not seriously try to open up the black- box of the state. Although Moravcsik in the latter revised work introduces a domestic level8, this can not be understood as seriously taking the various actors with their di- verse interests and resource capabilities - on the relevantly different levels, into ac- count.

After shedding light on the underlying common assumptions of LIG and NF I will briefly outline the differences. Firstly, LIG draws from a traditional rationalist regime analysis the main actors are nation state governments. Supranational institutions, a re- sult of the European integration processes, are explained as securing the interests of the member states through common institutions and, through that, gaining more security about how other states will act in the anarchical world9. The states benefit from integra- tion as it opens a door to overcome sub-optimal collective outcomes and achieve coop- eration for mutual benefit through reducing transaction costs10. Hence Moravcsik and his followers see European Integration as the outcome of interstate bargaining11 .

NF identifies political and social elites as the main driving forces for integration, their support being a necessity12. These elites have an interest in integration due to the ex- pected benefits. Integration, in contrast to the understanding of LIG, is explained by NF as a process evolving from its very own dynamic13 . Highly imperfect knowledge of the long term implications of decisions made in the European Integration process can trig- ger unintended consequences14. For example Institutions - once established - can de- velop a 'life' of their own, in terms of building their own preferences and becoming a relevant actor with the self interest to gather more decision making power. In addition to these points, the concept of spill-over has been developed by NF and remains at the core even of the revised approaches that one might call Neo-Neofunctionalism. Simplified spill-over describes the phenomena that the integration of one sector leads to a primarily technical and functional15 pressure to integrate others; especially when connected to the already integrated sector16. In the next part I am going to evaluate if the intentions of the two approaches have been fulfilled and in how far one might call the theories success- ful.

2.2 LIG & NF - intentions, aim and validity

Although Risse claims that only LIG in difference to NF does not imply the EU as an organisation sui generis17 I would argue that the basic assumptions of NF, as displayed above, could be transferred to partly explain other processes and dynamics of regional integration elsewhere, especially in the first phases of integration. Therefore the formula n=x can be formulated for both approaches, albeit they can be described as theories with universal scope on integration. Both approaches argue from a macro perspective and try to explain why integration takes place18. Both approaches have been the predominant ones particularly in the first phase of theorizing European Integration19. They have also both been revised several times and reintroduced in different contexts of theorizing in- tegration. Thus, they continue to be present in the field of European Integration Theo- ries. In sum, both theories have partly succeeded in their aim to provide a universal the- ory for integration, as they have been the most important approaches at the early stages of theorizing, although in the later disciplinary development various weaknesses of both approaches are pointed out.


1 See: Wiener/Diez 2009 p. 6 ff. for a detailed description of the three phases of European Integration Theory

2 Risse 1996: p. 54

3 for an overview of current `mosaic` of theories in the field of European Integration see Wiener/Diez 2009

4 See Wiener/Diez 2009: 8f.

5 See Risse 1996 p. 56

6 See Moravcsik/Schimmelpfennig 2009 p. 67ff. and Moravcsik 1998b p. 382 and Moravcsik 1998a p.5

7 See Haas 2001 p. 30. footnote 10

8 See Moravcsik/Schimmelpfennig 2009 p. 73 and Moravcsik 1994

9 See Moravcsik/Schimmelpfennig 2009 p. 73.

10 See Moravcsik/Schimmelpfennig 2009 p. 71f.

11 See Moravcsik/Schimmelpfennig 2009 p. 70f.

12 See Haas 1964a 68ff. and Niemann/Schmitter 2009 p. 47f. and Risse 1996 p. 55

13 Niemann/Schmitter 2009 p. 47f.

14 See Pollack 2009 p. 136f.

15 although in later concepts of NF a concept of political spill-over is included

16 See Niemann/Schmitter 2009 p. 57f.

17 See Risse 1996 p. 56

18 See Risse 1996 p. 55

19 See Jachtenfuchs 2002 p. 650 and Risse 1996 p. 54 and Wiener/Diez 2009 p. 8ff.

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Neofunctionalism vs Liberal Intergovernmentalism
Are the Theories still valid today?
University of Hamburg  (Institute of Political Science)
European Integration Theories
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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European Integration, European Integration Theory, Integration Theory, Neofunctionalism, Liberal Intergouvernemntalism
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Ilyas Saliba (Author), 2010, Neofunctionalism vs Liberal Intergovernmentalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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